Coloring Experiments . . . Are They More Valuable Than Coloring An Image

Updated: Oct 20, 2020

Have you ever heard the expression, “Perfect is the enemy of the good”? I have not only heard it, I think I can honestly say in many ways in my coloring experience, I live by it. I hate to admit it, but I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to creating things. Now, that doesn’t really mean I’m perfect, but I sure have high expectations every time I put marker or colored pencil to paper.

I’ve started to wonder if that is the reason I have a hard time starting a coloring project. I know, it surprises me that after years of coloring I get anxiety before I start to color. As an over thinker I spend time trying to figure out why this happens to me. I guess it goes right back to that perfectionist gene whether I’m about to start a class project or create my own from scratch. I have an expectation that I’m going to create a beautiful project from the first stroke I place on the paper with my marker or pencil. But what I now know is that it takes a foundation of strokes and a lot of adjustments before my image is going to come to life. Like a wise teacher told me, art is like riding the teeter totter . . . it’s all ups and downs until you finish the ride.

The cure to all of this for me is to spend more time experimenting with my markers and colored pencils and less time coloring from tutorials, workshops or coloring classes. That’s right, I need to doodle with my markers and pencils. And that is what I try to do daily. As a result I end up with quite a collection of ugly stuff. But mixed in are a few gems, the discoveries I make when I’m not trying to color a beautiful project.

Not only that, through the repetition of doodling with my markers I’ve learned to create better flick strokes, control my pointillism dots, add enough ink for colors to blend smoothly and so much more. My pencil doodling has taught me that I can control my pencil pressure, what it means to build up to the color I want and that different pencils are better for different techniques.

I have also spent a great deal of time doodling with the 12 colors of the CMY color wheel. I have swatched pencils and markers to fit the color wheel families, I’ve created intensity wheels for these colors with my colored pencils (which are not pretty). I’ve also converted countless photos of my coloring projects to black and white to check for a variety in values used.

While doing this I have occasional thoughts of what is this all for. But then one day it finally hit me, there is value to every color I see—I don’t have to take a photo and then convert it to black and white to see it now. One of the things I do daily now is to look at a few objects and ask myself “what is the value of the color I see”. I finally understand that I need to look at a color and not ask myself to name it, instead ask myself “what is the main color I see and is it a dull or bright version of that color”. All of this is helping me develop my sense of color and that is leading to better color choices in my projects.

Experimenting with my supplies, from paper to markers to pencils to watercolors, etc., is building up skills that are becoming second nature for me when I color. I may not even notice when I’m coloring that I’ve just done something without thinking about it. I equate this unconsciousness to that of having a sore throat. Let’s face it, I bet you don’t jump out of bed in the morning, swallow and think, “wow my throat feels great today”? But the morning you wake up and find that when you swallow it feels like you have a razor blade stuck in your throat . . . ouch! Now is the time you might realize just how good your throat felt yesterday but today it’s going to change how you consciously swallow. You see, we don’t have to always think about things consciously to be doing them.

I encourage you to doodle. It doesn't have to take a lot of time. The next time you are making a phone call and are put on hold, grab a piece of scratch paper and draw shapes. Then fill them in. Then add a shadow. Then go wherever your hand or mind wants to go next. There is no right way. The wrong is in the not doing. These little experiments will lead you to places you don’t expect. Some you can avoid in the future and others might make your coloring stand out from the crowd. Just have fun. The point is to gain experience, regardless of whether or not you think it's good enough to share.

I'm learning to embrace my imperfections as they become perfect learning experiences.

What's happening in the Corner . . .

Do you "think" about your coloring your image in layers? I know I didn't until I learned to think about building up to a color I wanted layer-by-layer.

This month we explore different purposes for starting a coloring project with a base layer of color(s); from establishing the light and dark value areas of your image to creating a quick base of color that you add contrast and/or details with colored pencil.

If you are reading this after we moved on to the next technique, you will be able to find the Practice Technique Pack for Coloring for Depth & Dimension here.

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